State Library Victoria - history

How to research the history, development, architecture, collections and management of the State Library of Victoria.


Commissioned to celebrate the Library's jubilee, the Domed Reading Room was designed by Norman G. Peebles of the firm, Bates, Peebles and Smart. In 1909, the Library trustees appointed JW and DA Swanson to build the new reading room.

It was officially opened by the Governor-General Lord Denman on 14 November 1913. Designed to emulate the British Museum in London and the Library of Congress in Washington, the octagonal building consists of a basement, ground floor, first floor reading room and four gallery levels. The building occupies a site 220 feet square and is built of brick, ferro-concrete and glass, and has double walls forming an annulus 16 feet wide. The Dome is 114 feet in diameter and 114 feet high. The original skylights in the Dome were covered in copper sheathing in 1959 because of water leakage problems.

The grand staircase linking the foyer to the Domed Reading Room and Queen's Hall was part of the Dome development. The stairs include white Sicilian marble and grey/black Buchan limestone. 

Read more in the Conservation management plan by Lovell Chen (available online), and the articles by Miles Lewis listed below.

Renovations to the Domed Reading Room commenced in 1999 as part of the Library’s major redevelopment program. It was reopened in July 2003, renamed as the La Trobe Reading Room. It now houses the Library's open access Australiana (Australian history, politics, geography, literary criticism) collection.

In 2012-13 the Library celebrated the centenary of the Dome. The Dome100 website includes the history of the Dome's architecture, and stories from people who have been inspired by the Dome.


Baigent, Phil, 'The State Library: the challenge of redevelopment', The La Trobe journal, 72, Spring 2003, pp 62-70.

Text of a talk given by Phil Baigent, a director of Ancher Mortlock & Woolley, Architects.

Dunstan, Keith, 15 November 1988, ‘A marvellous disaster for 75 years', The Age,  pp 1, 4.

Article commemorating the 75th anniversary of the State Library's Domed Reading Room. Discusses the condition of the Library, the hunt for a new building and the proposal to build a new museum on the Yarra Bank to allow the State Library to take over the entire library-museum site.

Heinrichs, P, 13 July 2003, 'Incredible lightness of reading', Sunday Age, p. 2

Journalist's impression of the refurbished Dome, includes staff interview

Lewis, Mary, Jul-Oct 2003, '"Room for 2000000 volumes and 550 readers": the opening of the Domed Reading Room', State Library of Victoria news, pp. 2-4.

Lewis, Miles, December 2013, ‘Building the Dome: an illustrated account', The La Trobe journal, no 92, pp 4-51, [online]

Lewis, Miles, Spring 2003, ‘The Dome', The La Trobe journal, no 72, pp 41-61, [online]

Discusses construction, design weaknesses and the distinctive character of the space. Provides a list of references, including seven articles from the journal Building.

Lewis, Miles, 2004, 'A house divided 1890 - 1918' in Bates Smart : 150 years of Australian architecture edited by Philip Goad, Thames & Hudson,  pp 66 - 111

Chapter includes the building of the Domed Reading Room pp. 102 - 111; includes plans and photos.

Lodewycks, Axel, February 1990, ‘Damned by a dome: the State Library of Victoria scandal', Age monthly review pp 20-22, Family History & Newspaper Room - on microfilm.

Another similar article by the same author, 'Our library 'damned by a dome', was published in The Age on October 15 1989 p14 and is available online.

'Melbourne's new library, an imposing work, the great dome', 24 June 1911, The Argus,  p 7.

Article with illustrations showing the Domed Reading Room under construction.

‘One of the world's big things: the reinforced concrete dome of Melbourne's Library', 12 June 1911, Building: the magazine for the architect, builder, property owner and merchant, pp 50-54, Family History & Newspaper Room - on microfilm.

Technical article written at the time of construction, two years before the Dome's completion in 1913, discussing the design and construction of the ‘great' Domed reading room, from an architectural perspective. Provides measurements and discusses the use of reinforced concrete. Includes illustrations of the timber trusses and the Dome, showing timber centering ready for taking concrete. The tone of the article is one in awe of the construction of the Dome, "the greatest on earth".

Public Library, Museums and National Gallery (Vic), [1913], Opening of the reading rooms: Friday, 14th November, 1913, printed by A H Massina, [online]

This is a programme of the opening of the Great Reading Room (Domed Reading Room) by the Governor-General, Lord Denham.

'Returning the Dome to Victoria: the Dome festival', Jul-Oct 2003, State Library of Victoria News, pp. 6-7.

Saunders, David A L, March 1959, ‘The reinforced concrete dome of the Melbourne Public Library, 1911', Architectural science review, pp.39-46

Lengthy article discussing the history, design and construction of the concrete dome over the Domed Reading Room from an architectural perspective. Plans of the dome and reinforcement for the corner ribs of the dome are reproduced in the article.

A copy of this article is held in the Local History File entitled ‘Melbourne, Vic. Libraries. State Library of Victoria'.

'The State Library building', October 1970, La Trobe Library journal, vol 2, no 6,  pp.31-35, [online]

Discusses the history of the Domed Reading Room and the architectural influences on its design. Edmund La Touche Armstrong's vision for the Domed Reading Room is included as well as faults and weaknesses in the design of the building as perceived by Leigh Scott. Includes extracts from the report of Morris Miller's speech in The Argus after the opening on 14 November 1913.

Leigh Scott was previously employed by the Public Library before becoming Librarian at the University of Melbourne and his memoirs entitled ‘Mainly from memory' are held in the Australian Manuscripts Collection at the State Library of Victoria. 

Ribbon of words

Included in the Dome redevelopment was a band of quotations circling the room.

Originally known as the Dome Words Project, these literary quotations were unveiled when the refurbished Dome was opened in July 2003.

Harboe Ree, Cathrine, Spring 2003, 'A ribbon of words: wall quotations in the La Trobe Reading Room', La Trobe Journal, no 72,  pp 72-79 [online].

Lists quotes with authors, and gives an account of the planning of the project. Does not include full citations for the quotations.

Garner, Helen, Jul-Oct 2003, '"A smell of old reading...": Helen Garner remembers the Domed Reading Room', State Library of Victoria News, p. 5.

An extract from this piece appears in the ribbon of words.

There used to be a quote starting 'After all anybody is as their land and air is', ending with 'it is not curiously not necessary…' displayed in the Level 4 gallery, overlooking the Dome. This quote was taken from 'Lecture 4' by Gertrude Stein, published in Narration in 1935 (see pages 46-49).

The Dome in pop culture

The music video for Faker's song 'Hurricane' was filmed in the Dome.

The Dome also features in the music videos for Baker Boy (ft. Yirrmal) - Ride, and Gretta Ray - One Day Like This.

DMA's filmed a performance in the Dome, in June 2020, as part of the State Government's State of Music YouTube series (episode 6). They performed Life is a game of changing and The glow.

The cover for the 1985 album Something that you said by Kids in the Kitchen features a photo of the band's members sitting in the Dome.

The Leftovers (season 3 episode 4), the 2010 film Don't Be Afraid of the Dark and the South Korean game show Running Man (2014 season) featured scenes filmed in the Dome. A scene in the 1985 miniseries The Anzacs shows librarian character Max Earnshaw in the Dome. 

MasterChef Australia (season 11 episode 13), first broadcast on 15 May 2019, featured both the Dome and Cowen Gallery. Contestants reinvented historical meals from the Library's menu collections.

Ballarat Town Hall's historic collections include a wood inlay table created by Mr E Mannin of Fitzroy. The table features a depiction of the Library's exterior, looking across the front lawn, portico and Dome. The table was donated to the City of Ballarat in 1954.

George Dreyfus wrote Fanfare for a new Dome, for the 2003 re-opening of the Dome, after renovation. This piece can be heard on the CD The brass band music of George Dreyfus. A Channel 9 news item about the re-opening, including snippets of the fanfare and other performances, can be found on YouTube.


The brown linoleum on the floor of the Dome was bought new during the 1999 redevelopment.

The Library had retained records of the original build, and wrote to the company in Scotland who had supplied lino for the Dome when it first opened in 1913, as they were still in business.

The company were able to supply new lino made to the same 'recipe' (colour) as the original linoleum. See Shedding light on the glory days of domed reading roomThe Age, 12 June 2003. 

Dome Annulus - Exhibitions

The upper floors of the Dome Annulus - the floors above the Dome Reading Room - now serve as exhibition spaces. Formerly these areas were used for book storage. Between levels 4 and 5 there was an additional floor inserted to add an extra storage space. During the major redevelopment of the Dome the additional floor was removed and levels 4 and 5 were refurbished as exhibition spaces.

The "Shakespeare Window" was installed in September 2005 for exhibition on Level 6. This window was commissioned by theatre impresario George Coppin and installed in the Bourke Street façade of his Apollo Music Hall in 1862. Coppin's daughter donated the window to the Library. The window has the popular 19th century spelling 'Shakspere'.

On Level 4 the permanent exhibition is World of the Book. This gallery opened in December 2005 as the Mirror of the World exhibition.

On Level 5 there was an ongoing exhibition called The changing face of Victoria. This exhibition opened in November 2004 and concluded on 6 February 2022.

Dome exhibitions - World of the book & Changing face of Victoria

Dome exhibition spaces
Dome exhibition spaces
Dome exhibition spaces


Many images of the Dome (La Trobe Reading Room) have been digitised and added to the Library's catalogue. This includes pictures of the initial construction, and the refurbishment in 1999-2003. To find these images, search the catalogue using the words domed reading room library.

[Domed reading room, State Library of Victoria], H11626

Books on the balcony

There are a number of volumes on the shelves of the Dome balconies of the La Trobe Reading Room. These items are not in use. They are duplicates of collection items and are for decoration.

Dome balconies La Trobe Reading Room

Image showing books on the Dome balconies

The dais in the dome

Once upon a time a staff member sat in the dais in the La Trobe Reading Room, watching over any chattering public. This blog asks two long term SLV librarians how this used to work.

Desk plaques

State Library Victoria offers the opportunity to inscribe a plaque on a desk in the La Trobe Reading Room through a donation.  

The Library maintains a list and plan of all of plaques installed in the La Trobe Reading Room. Ask a Librarian for more information.
Note: for any new enquiries please contact the Philanthropy Team on 8664 7589 or



Dome hat

Black and white photo of Joan Lowther wearing Aage Thaarup hat inspired by State Library Victoria Domed Reading Room

Article reporting on the visit to Australia of milliner Aage Thaarup, Weekly Times, 19 Mar 1952, page 35. For more about his Dome-inspired hat see The Advertiser (Adelaide), 27 February 1952, page 2.

'Bingo board'

From the 1980s, the Library's collection retrieval service was paired with a visual delivery notification board, affectionately known as a 'bingo board'. There was a bingo board in the Dome, to the right of the clock. A numbered ticket was given to a library user, in return for their call slip (retrieval request). The slip reminded them what number they were allocated, while they waited for their book to be delivered. Once their order was delivered from storage, their number would be illuminated on the board, and they would know their order was ready for pickup.

Numbered retrieval request receipt State Library Victoria

Book storage in the upper levels of the Dome

Book storage in upper levels of the Dome photographer Adrian Flint H2008.129/54

Book storage in upper levels of the Dome photographer Adrian Flint H2008.129/41

Book storage in upper levels of the Dome

Book storage in upper levels of the Dome photographer Adrian Flint H2008.129/41

Book storage in upper levels of the Dome photographer Adrian Flint H2008.129/41

Book storage in upper levels of the Dome photographer Adrian Flint H2008.129/52

Note the floor installed at the middle level of the lower windows

Book storage in upper levels of the Dome photographer Adrian Flint H2008.129/85

Book storage in upper levels of the Dome photographer Adrian Flint H2008.129/85

Book storage in upper levels of the Dome photographer Adrian Flint H2008.129/86

Book storage in upper levels of the Dome photographer Adrian Flint H2008.129/86